I’ve had a lot of fear lately. Fear of publishing this website. Fear of not being talented enough, ambitious enough, driven enough. And, most of all, fear of criticism and confrontation. The fear has gotten worse and worse as I get older, and I wasn’t sure why.
I recently joined a volunteer organization called the Wolf PAC. If you haven’t heard of it, check it out. They have a awesome strategy to restore free and fair elections in the U.S. and I can’t wait to get started with them.
After the initial thrill and excitement of finally finding something meaningful to do with my time I was overcome with doubt, fear, and a sense of pessimism. One of the first things you do as a volunteer is to call and set up meetings with your state representatives. I know, right? Like, how often to we do that? Much less even know who our legislators are? And now I had to call them and set up a meeting with them to talk about something I am passionate about, sure of, and knowledgeable about, but…”What if they don’t like it? Or me? What if I get shot down? You know what? This is stupid. It’s not even going to work. The country is done for. Global warming is coming, the British are coming, it’s all over.”
On a higher level in my brain I knew this was just my fear. And that made me even more angry. Because I wasn’t supposed to have fear. I’m a warrior.
I beat cancer about 7 years ago. And by “I beat” I mean I took all the drugs they gave me, and let them stick me with all the needles they said they should stick me with. “I beat cancer” always bothers me. It should really be “I endured.” “I let the dice roll, and I was one of the lucky ones, with just the right diet, stress level, and mutation of cancer that responded to treatment, so I’m alive now.” But I survived. And in the first couple months of chemo (I was on treatment for three and half years) my mom, the best caretaker and friend anyone can imagine, gave me a necklace. On the necklace was some sanskrit writing. And on the back it said “fearlessness.”
I was so touched. It was one of the most thoughtful gifts, besides birth, that my mother ever gave me. And it was just what I needed. And I made it my goal to let go of fear, and be a warrior in the face of death.
And I made it my goal to let go of fear, and be a warrior in the face of death.
And that worked. For awhile. I came to peace with death. My mortality. It took a few years, some frantic searching, and a lot of therapy and psychedelics (separately! Although together would have saved me a lot of sessions!) but I figured out my peace with death, and why I’m here on this planet.
So, seven years go by, and like I said I have become more and more paralyzed by fear. I just wanted it to stop! I felt like a baby. Immature, scared of the dark, scared of what some stranger might say about me or my art or my political views. And this fear was so antithetical to everything that I had built up as me. “I’m a warrior, for God’s sake! I beat cancer! I have to stop being scared! This isn’t me!”
“I’m a warrior, for God’s sake! I beat cancer! I have to stop being scared! This isn’t me!”
So a couple days ago, learning about Wolf PAC, I was talking to a guy named Todd Jagger. He’s Volunteer coordinator for all of the Western States. He’s a total badass, retired at 56, a former musician, sold an internet company ten years ago, and now dedicates his time to fixing our political system. He said, “Now if you decide to be state leader, a lot of your job will just be teaching people how to get over their fear and just make the calls.” And I said, “But that’s my problem. I have fear. I can’t even bring myself to call my representatives, how am I going to counsel others to do that?” And he said, “You will always have fear. We are programmed to be fearful creatures. That’s just in us, back from our caveman days. We fear change. We fear progress. Even if it’s for good! I still get scared when I call a legislator and I’ve called hundreds of them! But it’s like acting on stage: you’re scared until you walk onstage, and then, ‘Well, fudge it! I’m here now, might as well make the best of it!’ That’s what calling a politician is like. You just have to step on stage, and ignore the fear until then.”
I left that conversation with a newer idea about fear. Maybe I am supposed to have fear. But it all came together at the yoga class I told you about last week. I realized, in my sweaty, convoluted poses, that I am meant to be fearful. It’s programmed into me. Into all of us! It’s not a failing! It’s my strength! It’s what makes me human! It’s a part of my intelligence. It keeps me from doing really stupid things, and that’s most of the decisions I would make are stupid ones: eating pizza and doughnuts all the time, cheating on my boyfriend, not showing up to work; I have fear and the fear keeps me in line and keeps my life viable and beautiful.
But when I had fear about something that was GOOD for me, like sharing my writing, talking to our political representatives, I somehow believed that I was a warrior and shouldn’t have any fear. But I was wrong. And a lot of it goes back to that necklace my mom gave me, and the identity I created from it: that I will somehow be fearless all my life. Those words, and that identity, worked for a time. But that time is over. And that necklace has hung lower and lower on my neck ever since.
So I’m letting go of fearlessness. I am embracing my fear, and I know that fear will be inevitable, throughout my life. And the more I worry over it, fuss over it, and scratch at it, the more entrenched my fears will become, and the harder I will be rid of them.
So come fiends, ghouls, and ghosts of my mind. Let us feast. This one’s on me.